By RICHARD COULSON
THE physical rebuilding of Abaco and Grand Bahama has already started and will continue. The rubble will be cleared away, businesses reopened, and new houses built. It won’t be easy or quick, but the energy of the Bahamian people, with generous help and expertise from abroad, will prevail.
The toughest task will not be physical but humanitarian: restoring the lives of the several thousand Haitians evacuated from The Mudd, Pigeon Peas, and Sandbanks in Abaco. The temporary shelters mainly in New Providence cannot be a permanent solution. But nor can be a restoration of the status quo. Surely these unfortunate non-citizens have no legal or constitutional claim to return to the shattered shanty-towns where they once lived, with property possession based on nothing but squatters’ rights. Without insurance, the returnees could only rebuild similar shacks, waiting for destruction in a future hurricane.
Government has full sovereign authority to prohibit return and to undertake an effective reconstruction programme. But equally, Government has the moral duty to provide humane treatment for all those whom it evacuated. Until the evacuees find their own homes and jobs in Nassau or The Family Islands, or are repatriated to Haiti, Government will remain responsible for their basic food and shelter, doubtless imposing a difficult draw on our Treasury for years to come.
But we will have no choice — as a Christian nation we must support the needy within our borders, particularly as it was our own lax policies that let them in.
Abaco has caught the attention of the international press. The influential Washington Post carried a long story about the mega-rich foreign householders of the Bakers Bay resort now abruptly at a loss without the thousand Haitian employees who before Dorian boated over daily from mainland Abaco. Just this week the New York Times showed a moving video essay of a Haitian picking for any items to retrieve from his collapsed shack in the total devastation of the Sandbanks community.
Mayor Gary Shaw of Joplin, Missouri, who supervised its recovery after a 2011 tornado killed 161 people and demolished 7,000 houses in less than an hour, has just sent an inspirational message : “Change is extremely difficult, and many times only comes when it is forced upon us… but communities can turn devastation into tremendous new opportunities to be greater than ever before.” We hope the Mayor can come to Nassau and deliver his message in person.
Greta vs Climate Change
The destructiveness of Dorian focuses our thoughts on how to minimise future threats to our low-lying, country in the hurricane belt. Nationally, we can take direct measures like enforcing building codes, building seawalls, and assuring drainage from airport runways.
But we can do little directly about controlling the real villain: climate change. An authoritative United Nations report writes “warmer ocean waters, when combined with rising sea levels, threaten to fuel ever more powerful tropical cyclones and floods... the world’s nations must sharply reduce greenhouse gas emissions to lessen the severity of these threats”.
As The Bahamas produce only a minuscule fraction of these emissions, our best course will be to vigorously support international campaigns backing the report — which of course is ignored by the US government under President Trump.
Its sober words are being brought to vivid life by Greta Thunberg, the winsome 16-year-old Swedish school girl who has become a modern Joan of Arc battling with polluters of the atmosphere.
After organising a huge student demonstration outside the Swedish Parliament only a year ago, her determination has led to support from millions of young people, meetings with world leaders of the European Commission and at annual Davos Economic Forum, culminating with an invitation to the United Nations General Assembly in New York just this September.
Since she never uses aircraft because of their aerial carbon foot-print , she proved her smart salesmanship by announcing a “carbon free” transatlantic sailing passage from England, offered on racing yacht Malizia II, a Monegasque name reflecting ownership by Pierre Casiraghi, an heir to the Monaco throne and grandson of the late Princess Grace Kelly. Skipper Pierre was on board with a professional captain, as well as Greta’s father, an experienced documentary film-maker and another photographer.
Nevertheless it was a spartan voyage on this 60-foot high-tech speedster; although powered by solar panels and water turbines it’s stripped of galley and even toilet, and offered a bouncy two-week ride while Greta slept in a narrow pipe-berth – without seasickness, she reported.
After arrival on August 18th Greta was kept busy with a presentation to a Congressional committee in Washington and preparing her UN appearance to the Climate Action Summit on September 23rd. Her 14-minute speech delivered forcefully and with trembling sincerity has become a widely displayed international sensation, as she lacerated her seniors with “How dare you” continue to talk about “money and dreams of eternal economic growth…when we are facing mass extinction.”
Critics have pointed out that she failed to provide specific programmes for reducing emissions pollution, but her intention was arousing public awareness, not providing a ten-point action agenda.
“A few days later she spoke at a Global Climate Summit in Montreal, driven there in a volunteered electric car. It’s not clear when or how she will return home to Sweden, but surely her proven publicity leaves her with no lack of financial sponsors eager to provide generous support, like the passage already donated by the Monaco yachting entrepreneur. The next firm fixture on her schedule is a UN climate conference in Santiago, Chile, in December, which will require a three-week journey from New York by train, boat, and bus. One is entitled to wonder if the emissions and energy consumption may exceed the carbon footprint from an eight-hour round- trip flight.
Facebook shows that Greta is becoming well-known in The Bahamas. Hard-headed citizens Robert Sands and Ken Chaplin have expressed admiration, and have suggested that she be invited to address Parliament as well as youth groups. She won’t fly, or book on a fuel-guzzling cruise ship, but a private yachtsman could doubtless be found who would gladly offer to sail her across the Gulf Stream.
Then, what will be her message? To be true to her mission, she should propose that Government sharply reduce in-bound flights from the US as well as cruise- ship arrivals, as they are both major contributors of carbon emissions. Although tourism may be considered an essentially frivolous industry, it is nevertheless the mainstay of our economy and she will have a tough task convincing the House of Assembly to enact any seriously restrictive measures.
She could make a logical argument that no private vehicles be licensed larger than, say, a Nissan Note, and that the total vehicle population be changed to 50% electric. But one can imagine the howls of dismay that would arise from our automobile dealers and parts purveyors, threatening mass employment reductions or probable bankruptcy.
In short, Greta would learn here — as in many other countries — the practical conflicts in preaching against climate change while facing hard commercial and political objections. She has only been fighting this battle for a year. With her youthful energy, her sincere commitment, and her articulate and attractive presence, she can certainly be a valuable force against reactionary stand-pattism and go-slow gradualism, and always alert to corporate greed. But she will discover that absolute positions do not bring results in the real world and must be tempered with reasonable compromise and negotiation.